The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), who coordinate the Week internationally as ‘International Week of the Deaf’, support the recognition of native signed languages as per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Ireland signed in 2007. The WFD has designated the theme of this year’s celebration as ‘With Sign Language rights, Our Children Can’. The emphasis on Deaf children is due to the fact that the vast majority of Deaf children do not have full access to their native signed language. The official Irish stance on the issue is one of neutrality, despite there being widespread evidence of the use of signed languages for Deaf children being discouraged, dismissed or even demonised, especially within the areas of healthcare and education. This comes even as experts say that signed languages would provide the children with a sustainable foundation on which they can acquire further education and knowledge, when compared with a non-signed language approach.
Irish Sign Language has no official status in Irish legislation today, though there is reference to the language in the Education Act 1998. A vital aim of the IDS is to get recognition and uphold the status of ISL in Ireland, without which the language is at risk of being overlooked in essential areas of policy.
While signed languages are being employed in the schools for Deaf children, there is no official standard for teachers and auxiliary staff to follow to ensure the proper acquisition of Irish Sign Language for Deaf children. As a result, their ISL acquisition is delayed. There is an ISL home-tuition scheme aimed at families of Deaf children that is funded by the Department of Education and Skills, but it is not actively encouraged by relevant public services, leading to Deaf children and their families losing out on their language development.
The IDS has been campaigning for over 30 years for the recognition of Irish Sign Language (ISL). The IDS calls upon the government to take urgent action in support of its commitment to the Deaf people of Ireland by officially recognising ISL, the first and natural language of thousands of Deaf people. Last year a proposed bill to have ISL officially recognised by the government was rejected by the Seanad (http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?fn=/documents/bills28/bills/2013/11313/document1.htm)
For many Deaf adults, ISL is the core foundation for their sense of cultural belonging and it is the only fully natural language through which they can express their worldviews, be they artistic, social or political. The difference between signed languages and their spoken and written counterparts are acutely emphasised here, where active participation in and ownership of one’s own identity is concerned.